Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Côte d’Ivoire: The Blind Kingdom, by Véronique Tadjo

This is another country for which I had to do some searching. I am trying to find female writers, and also to find alternatives to the books already read by Ann Morgan - I'm trying not to just follow someone else's list. Ahmadou Kourouma was Ann's choice for Côte d’Ivoire, and there seemed to be little else out there, until I came across Véronique Tadjo.

This is a slim book, and it does not follow the usual structure of a novel. It is a collage of short chapters which are made up of many types of text - some declamatory, like political speeches, some rather Biblical in form, in the nature of poetry or prophesy. Although I found this structure interesting, I also found that it made it harder to recall the story line, especially when I had put the book down and picked it up again later.

The book opens with a catastrophic earthquake, which the author says in an interview at the end of the book is a metaphor for the devastation that occurred in many African countries after independence. The unnamed kingdom in the story is ruled by the blind - another metaphor. The emblem of the king and his court is the bat, an animal with very poor eyesight but excellent sonar. The bats however, which inhabit the royal palace, leave their excrement everywhere, leading to pollution and decay.

The king's daughter Akissi falls in love with Karim, one of his advisers who comes from the Other People who are sighted. Karim sends Akissi to his mother in the north of the country, where she learns from her and recovers her sight.

At times I felt the method of layered texts led to a little too much abstraction, but on the whole, I found the book interesting and well told.
The Blind Kingdom was translated from the French by Janis A Mayes and published by Ayebia Clarke Publishing Limited.

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